With high hopes that the iconic Sgt. John H. Newnam Armory could be saved, renovated, or repurposed, a recent environmental study found systemic mold penetrating the core of the 1930s structure.
The report concluded that even with remediation no guarantee could be given that the building would be cleared of the issue.
An October 5 meeting of the Historic District Commission of Chestertown voted unanimously for the building’s demolition. Monday night the Chestertown Town Council also voted unanimously for the structure’s demolition.
Jon Seidel, Director at the Center for Environment & Society at Washington College agrees that the report is bad news.
‘I’m a died in the wool preservationist, and demolition is the last thing I ever like to hear,” Seidel says. “Asbestos issues can be dealt with, but mold is another story and it’s under appreciated for its impact on health.”
And critically, the report would deter investors wanting to use the armory as part of their design plan for a hotel, bed and breakfast, or conference center.
Added to the Maryland Historical Trust in 1980, the fortress-like armory was transferred as surplus from the State to Washington College in 2012. In years previous, attempts were made to preserve the building, most notably in 2008 by STAY (Save the Armory: Yes), an ad-hoc coalition formed to keep the armory as a public space.
One earlier consideration was to eliminate the back half of the building and its garage with the hope that the central structure could be maintained as the centerpiece for a new project. Over the years, standing water and lack of ventilation causing the dense mold infiltration muted hopes to rehabilitate the building.
Currently, the College is in talks with investors who are interested in constructing a small hotel and conference center on the cleared site and commemorate the legacy of the Sgt. John H. Newnam Armory by including characteristics of the original.
More information will be forthcoming as it is made available to the Chestertown Spy.